Whether you like the smell of wintergreen or marzipan, cheese or fresh cut grass, lemon or borscht, your scent preferences are likely impacted by your culture.
Last week, we talked about how that which surrounds us often influences our favored scents.
It may be onions prompting attraction, cow manure implying success, or body odor indicating the spirit.
Whatever the case, our noses seem to know our culture.
Many of the scent preferences and concepts we discussed last week surrounded second- or third-world cultures, so we might expect the norms and preferences to differ more from those of first-world cultures than two first-world cultures would from each other.
But what happens when we compare the scent preferences of the first-world? Are they similar? Do first-world cultures like the same scents?
The short answer is no.
Of course, these are general claims; scent preferences differ depending on personal tastes.
Americans like the smell of wintergreen; the British don’t.
Germans like the smell of marzipan; the Japanese don’t.
The intrigue regarding these cultural differences in scent preferences led to a study that dove right into these comparisons. This is what it found.
Japan vs. Germany
Japanese researcher, Saho Ayabe-Kanamura, explored Japan and Germany’s differences in scent preferences and perception of everyday odors.
As you can see in the chart, the study found that participants preferred fragrances of food odors that they thought most edible. They tended to rate these edible odors higher.
This is not unusual. We are what we eat. And the food we consume is often a deeply acquired part of primary socialization.
One example of this: I had dinner with an American senior manager at a French restaurant.
We decided to dive into French dining culture headfirst, and we ordered escargot as an appetizer.
I asked my American colleague: “So how does it taste?”
He answered: “For you, these are escargot. For me, they will stay what they have always been: slimy snails.”
Americans will probably always taste slimy snails when chewing on escargot, and this is due to their primary socialization.
The same goes with scent. Once a preference is set, it’s not very adaptable.